Why Your Pundits Are So Boring

Politics
By
Mark Bourrie
June 23, 2023
Fair Press by Mark Bourrie logo

I have a theory about our new King, the great and powerful Charles III.

We know too much about him. His love life, specifically his desire to be a tampon. His opinions. The fact he has his flunkies iron his shoelaces. His lousy relationship with one of his sons.

The monarchy is built on mystique, and that’s gone. It could only become irrelevant if it became ludicrous. And that’s happened. Now, it will be ignored by everyone except U.K. tabloid reporters. The great royal tours are over, Charles will be just another second-tier VIP when he visits Canada, and it will be easier for governments to forge a national consensus to be done with him and his half-bright heirs.

Familiarity does breed contempt. There was a time when journalists had a big role in setting the national agenda. But that, like the aura of monarchy, is fading away, simply because there’s no mystique cloaking people like Andrew Coyne, John Ivison, Brian Lilley and the rest of the punditti. Their knee-jerk reactions, their snide asides, their momentary lapses are always in our faces via social media, TV panels, talk radio and the rest.

We didn’t know too much about the great political pundits of the past. Peter C. Newman wasn’t on Twitter every day. We weren’t over-exposed to him on CBC news networks and talk radio. You got a little Newman once a week or so, maybe a moment on Peter Gzowski’s show occasionally, then he went back to doing whatever he did when he wasn’t writing a column or a book.

We didn’t see his views on every bloody thing. He didn’t post pictures of his new girlfriend or run interference for his spouse’s employer. He was smart enough to dole out nuggets of thought-out wisdom, then go away.

I think that’s one of the reasons why pundits are kicked around. People feel they know them, have their number, and have been invited by them to mud wrestle in the digital sewer.

There’s a second reason. Most columnists in Canada seem incapable of doing an honest day’s work. And by “work,” I don’t mean shooting the shit with people all day and figuring out the consensus of upper-middle-class insiders. I mean actual research.

There are some exceptions. Paul Wells still burns some shoe leather though, interestingly, he’s no longer on a big media corporation payroll. David Moscrop has just emerged from academia and brings rigour to his work. But, by and large, what we see in Canadian punditry is just conventional wisdom in downtown Toronto and on Parliament Hill, sifted through the second-rate intellects of people who couldn’t get into law school.

(I’m talking about the mainstreamers, not the Rebel hacks on the Right or the Nora Loretto extremists on the Left.)

And this conventional wisdom reads like sermons. If there’s any attempt at humour, it invariably falls flat and is about as funny as a botched colonoscopy. There’s no artistry in Canadian punditry, no fun with the meaning and sounds of words, no delight in taking the English language out for a ride. If I want to be scolded, I’ll leave my clothes lying around on the bedroom floor and stop cleaning the bathrooms.

There are some great columnists in the English-speaking world. The New York Times has built up a stable of writers who have a mastery and love of the language, expertise in their fields – including a Nobel Prize winner writing about economics – and the work ethic that’s needed to do solid research.

It’s worth taking out a subscription to the Times just to see what I mean. Then ask yourself how a country of some forty million people has such a sad level of political discourse.

I suppose we can blame media managers, who are so risk-averse that they hire the equivalent of men in grey flannel suits to grind out one tedious eye-splitter after another. It’s sort of like the state of the movie industry, where executives will choose a sequel or remake over something that challenges conventional ideas.

We could blame journalism schools, but why go fishing with hand grenades again? They know how bad they are, and they must live with that every day. But their failings do not excuse graduates who never bother to crack a book, don’t have a library card or even know basic online research methodology.

Malcolm Gladwell has said it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master something difficult. It’s a bit trite and inaccurate, but there’s something to that claim. But a person can’t put in those 10,000 hours by doing the same thing over and over. There has to be self-appraisal, some understanding of flaws in the work, discomfort over failure.

But we live in an age of smug, at least among our financial, political and media elites. Arrogance is the enemy of learning. And people hate it.

Will this change?

For a while, it will get worse. Much, much worse. There is nothing on the horizon that will challenge the status quo. No media owners will decide that quality is the only way out. They’ll ignore the lessons of the New York Times, The Economist, The Guardian, and other successful media corporations that have built brand loyalty by giving customers value for their money.

Instead, they’ll keep hiring lobbyists and getting bailouts.

Because that, too, is the Canadian way.